BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Jury selection began Monday in the murder trial of the three white men charged in the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was shot while out jogging in this small coastal Georgia town last year.

Court officials in Glynn County expect a lengthy and challenging jury selection. 1000 people received jury duty notices, 600 of whom were instructed to attend Monday’s gymnasium. However, the court was unable to say exactly how many were present.

Timothy Walmsley, Superior Court Judge, wore in 20 potential jurors on Monday afternoon. The jurors sat at 6 feet distances wearing a face mask.

When asked by the judge, only one prospective juror indicated they were neutral on the case, and about half said they were already leaning toward either side – an early indication of the difficulty of seating a jury in the high-profile trial.

One prospective juror said they knew Arbery’s mother. When a prosecutor asked the prospective jurors if they wanted to serve on the jury, only one man raised his hand.

Is it self-defense, or a lynching? Three Georgian men are on trial for the murder of Ahmaud Abery in 2020

One prospective juror told the court he had seen so much about Arbery’s killing in the news and on social media that he was “sick of it.” The man said he shared cellphone video of the shooting on social media and discussed the case with his brothers, one of whom was also mailed a jury summons in the case.

Walmsley stated that “This case has attracted significant attention both in the community and around the country. I have no doubt the thousands of people who were summoned in response to the summons reacted in some manner.”

He added, “This does not make it easy for anyone.”

Arbery was shot while jogging Feb. 23, 2020, in Brunswick, about 70 miles south of Savannah. Father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan were charged with murder and other crimes. Bryan recorded a part of the incident in a graphically edited video. The lack of arrests in this case prompted a nationwide outcry.

Monday’s court hearing was attended by all three defendants and members of Arbery’s families. Both sides expected to question the jurors in the following days, individually and in groups, to see if they have formed any opinions that would render them unable to serve.

The judge will need to sit a jury consisting of 12 jurors and four alternates. These are available to replace any jurors that become sick or who are fired before the trial concludes. Ronald Adams from Glynn County Superior Court said the trial can take longer than two weeks after a jury has been selected.

Prospective jurors received a three-page pretrial questionnaire that asked what they already know about the case, where they get their news, whether they posted any online comments about Arbery’s killing, and whether they visited the scene of the shooting or did other research into the case on their own.

A list of questions was read to the court on Monday morning. Attorneys also wanted to question jurors.About their views on racism and using the “n” term. Walmsley found that Walmsley was correct in ruling that the lawyers wereSome questions may be asked.

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The defense had nearly 50% of prospective jurors from the first group respond to a question about their feelings toward Travis and Gregory McMichael. When asked if they considered the Confederate flag to be a “racist symbol,” three jurors raised their hand.

Legal experts have said that although race likely won’t be a key strategy for the prosecution, they expect it to be prominent in the trial and have raised concerns the defense will try to exclude potential jurors based on race. Brunswick has just more than 16,000 inhabitants, and is dominated Black. It sits in Glynn county, which is overwhelmingly white.

The race of prospective jurors has yet to be identified by the court.

Nearly 75 people donning blue shirts and holding “Justice for Ahmaud” signs marched nearly a mile through Brunswick on Sunday evening, chanting, “No justice, no peace.”

“I just want a conviction,” Marcus Arbery, Ahmaud Arbery’s father, said as he stood among the crowd. They killed my son due to his skin color. It’s really a racial hate crime.”

A member of the Transformative Justice Coalition holds a Justice for Ahmaud sign outside the Glynn County Courthouse on Monday.

Public figures, including civil rights attorney Ben Crump and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, have called the killing a “lynching.” Crump, who represents Marcus Arbery, gathered with his client and media outside the historic Glynn County courthouse Monday.

“It’s the first step in the journey to justice,” Crump said. You cannot execute a Black American man in America 2021 expecting that the matter will be treated the same as it was in America back in 1940s and 1950s.

Dozens more from around the country set up chairs outside the courthouse – not to watch jury selection but to support the Arbery family. The crowd occasionally broke into chants of “Black Lives Matter” and cheered as the family and their attorneys walked past.

“They’re hurting,” said Peggy Harris, who took a 15-hour bus trip from Ferguson, Missouri. You know, he was someone’s baby. They wanted us to shine a light for them.”

Daniela Rodríguez, an immigrant from Mexico who grew up in Brunswick, said she came to the courthouse “to see justice happen and make Brunswick become a better place.” Rodríguez said she became a community organizer because of the racism she endured in the small town.

In addition to malice murder and felony murder charges, the three defendants have been charged with two counts of aggravated assault and one count of false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment. The three also face federal hate crime charges and a wrongful death civil lawsuit filed by Arbery’s mother. 

Richard Burkhart (Savan Morning News, The Associated Press)

Source: USAToday.com

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